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COA affirms denial of shooter's request to proceed pro se

August 20, 2018

The Court of Appeals affirmed Monday the decision not to let a Vanderburgh County man who shot up an Evansville rescue mission to proceed pro se, finding his history of mental illness justified the trial court's requirement that he proceed with counsel. 

In a fit of jealousy, Ronnie Ricketts armed himself with two loaded handguns and shot his way into the Evansville Rescue Mission after learning his romantic partner, Sarah Metcalf, was there eating dinner with two men. Metcalf, Maurice Huffman, Huffman’s mother and James Smith were eating together in the rescue mission’s dining hall when Ricketts showed up to confront them. Ricketts, the father of Metcalf’s infant daughter, had previously told Metcalf not to associate with Smith anymore after learning the two had had an intimate relationship.

Upon seeing Metcalf, Ricketts called her a “lying whore” and told Huffman and Smith that if they did not leave her alone “[they] would be dead.” He then left the building to retrieve his firearms, discovered that he could not reenter through the door, shot out a window and stepped through. Visitors and many children volunteering at the rescue mission scattered for cover.

Unable to find Smith and Hoffman inside, Ricketts drove off. After a vehicular pursuit, police apprehended Ricketts in front of his home.

When asked by an interviewing detective if he told Smith and Huffman he was going to kill them, Ricketts responded “You’re damn right I did.” When asked if he wanted to kill them, Ricketts replied “Yeah.”

After being convicted of Level 2 felony burglary, Ricketts argued on appeal that he was erroneously denied his right to self-representation in Ronnie Ricketts, Jr. v. State of Indiana, 18A-CR-444. But the appellate court affirmed the trial court’s decision to deny his request to proceed pro se, noting its concerns regarding his longtime history of severe mental illness and treatments that were no longer effective.

The appellate court also determined Ricketts’ mental and emotional issues would likely intensify as trial approached, generating a distinct possibility that he would come “undone” under the pressure.

“Ricketts told the trial court that he had been discharged from the military for his mental health issues; was suffering from depression, personality disorder, PTSD, and anxiety; and had been receiving psychiatric care for twenty years with regular care for the past six,” Judge Cale Bradford wrote for the court Monday. “…Ricketts admitted that his mental health issues could interfere with his ability to represent himself and that he had ‘no idea’ how he would be able to represent himself if they did.”

Ricketts also contended his 17 ½ year sentence for Level 2 felony burglary was inappropriately harsh, but the appellate court also disagreed with that argument. It noted Ricketts’s actions had an ongoing negative effect on the Rescue Mission and those it serves.

“Although Ricketts fortunately did not injure anybody, he broke into the Rescue Mission fully intending to shoot Smith and Huffman, and his shot through the window certainly could have injured anyone who might have been nearby,” Bradford wrote. “…Following Ricketts’s offense, many groups that had planned to send children to volunteer at the Rescue Mission have cancelled, and parents of some child volunteers indicated that they would not be returning.”

The appellate court ultimately found that the egregious nature of Ricketts’s offense, “which was far more serious than needed to support the charge against him,” justified his advisory sentence.

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